Hidden History: Project MKUltra

Mon Mar 04, 2019

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Unfortunately, this week’s Hidden History will be less “wholesome dog story” and more “government conspiracy theory” as we look at the highly controversial Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) human experiment program Project MKUltra, also known by its much less subtle name of "CIA Mind Control." As the February 19, 2019 Hidden History article on U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” space laser program demonstrated, the Cold War brought some of humanity’s weirder and darker ideas, all for securing notions of global supremacy. Project MKUltra represents one of the shadier (and downright illegal) sides of these efforts.

Project MKUltra officially began in 1953 under Sidney Gottlieb under the order of CIA Director Allen Welsh Dulles. The initial aim of the project was to create mind-controlling drugs and techniques for use on Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean prisoners, after reports of U.S. war prisoners being subject to similar methods during the Korean War. Thus, MKUltra primarily began as a means of making prisoners of war (POWs) more susceptible during interrogations. Reportedly, the project even had goals of manipulating world leaders, most notably Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The experiments conducted through this project were oftentimes done without the knowledge or consent of their subjects, with much of the actual work done through academic institutions that received CIA grants. Many times, these institutions were front organizations that were unaware of the true nature of the CIA’s experiments. Methods used to attempt to manipulate subject’s mental states including administration of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and other drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and various forms of torture.

Did I mention most of the (unknowing or unwilling) victims were U.S. and Canadian citizens? The loss of a nuclear monopoly in the world and rise of communism created an atmosphere of fear among U.S. intelligence divisions. Depraved projects such as this are the result. An estimated $10 million (over $85 million in today’s currency) was spent on these experiments. Let me put that another way, around $85 million has been spent on illegally administering LSD to mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts, and sex workers across the U.S. all for the purposes of fighting communism.

Even worse, the research on LSD led to it ultimately being dismissed as an aid in interrogations due to its unpredictable nature. But if you’re hoping the story ends there, you’ll be happy to know that the CIA most certainly found other uses for this research in blackmail and other illicit efforts.

In 1973, amid the panic caused by the Watergate scandal, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all files on MKUltra destroyed. Thus, a full investigation and understanding of the project is forever impossible, except to the exclusive few in our nation’s intelligence agencies who are privy to this information. A Freedom of Information Act request in 1977 did uncover some 20,000 documents that survived Helms’ order, which were then investigated in a 1977 senate hearing. Also in the 1970s, U.S. Congress investigations such as the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission similarly brought projects such as MKUltra into the public eye.

Largely prompted by these investigations, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order in 1976 prohibiting "experimentation with drugs on human subjects, except with the informed consent, in writing and witnessed by a disinterested party, of each such human subject."

Of course, this is just all information that is readily available on the Internet about MKUltra. In this current age of media control allegations and information management, it’s beyond me to be able to say what is the truth of MKUltra. Was there more to it than just interrogation mind control and forced drug administration? Does it still continue under a different name and set of acronyms? How widespread was its testing on the U.S. and Canadian populations?

I, unfortunately, do not have these answers. I’m just a student newspaper editor, after all. Trying to influence the way people think and the topics they find interesting are way beyond my purview. There’s way more to controlling the minds of people than just, say, writing a historical trivia column every week. It definitely iSn’t like we can just prinT an aRtIcle with some Kind of Encoded message iNside of it that will cOmmand sleeper cell agents around campus to follow our every Word. That would be silly.





Appears in
2019 - Spring - Issue 6